Modalities texts released

The WTO draft agriculture and goods modalities texts came out late today. The agriculture chair Crawford Falconer was visibly frustrated by the lack of willingness of countries to take the bait of the compromises that he was subtly introducing in the sessions held at the WTO over the past 10 days. In his introduction to the modes for further agricultural reform released to WTO Members late on 22 June, he said that: “It is not an elegant document. But it reflects the reality of where we are. When all is said and done, where there are divergences, there are divergences. There is no point deluding oneself on that.”

Hilton Zunckel expressed the view that Falconer is right on the money. In draft trade agreement texts square brackets represent alternatives where there is disagreement. In the agriculture text there are 760 sets of square brackets. These brackets reflect massive divergences in views – like for instance the difference between 42% through to 90% as proposals for cuts in the highest agricultural tariffs; and proposals ranging from 37% – 83% cuts for domestic subsidies. The text also contains so many special treatment cases and proposed exclusions that one wonders if the trading system might even become more restrictive than it is now. At this level of potential protection there will certainly be less trade between developing countries among themselves as everybody clamours to have their pet protection elevated as a special case. Poor countries have even claimed that they need special protection attention given to “wine of fresh grapes”! Well perhaps a case of good Cape red will be the only medicine that could converge opinions when trade ministers meet at the end of this month in Geneva. With the present text it is a virtual certainty that Ministers will remain bogged down in a negotiating field awash in muddy exceptions in a once potentially fertile Doha Development soils.

Similarly, convergence in industrial products is also gridlocked. The non agricultural market access (NAMA) Chair declared that “I regret that I am unable to fulfil that mandate, as a result of the failure of the Negotiating Group to find consensus on many important issues”. Much of this lack of consensus stems from steep demands that have been forthcoming from developed countries for developing countries to closely match tariff cuts for the developed countries, a stance that has irked the likes of the G20, of which South Africa is an active member.